Part II in the month long tribute to the greatest poker player to ever sit at the table.
Throughout the late 70's, Stu Ungar was dominating anyone he played at Gin Rummy. The problem though, was that he simply could not be beat. Being this good can make it difficult to find action though. Stu was even resorting to handicapping, or offering crazy odds to the players, just to find action. All of that led up to him getting talked in to trying poker.
According to Stu, the 1980 World Series of Poker was the first time he ever played Texas Hold Em. Nobody would have believed it in 1980 though, as he plowed through the field. He once noted that in a game that had antes, he was relentless in collecting the antes. If the antes were green chips valued at 25, within a short time he had every green chip on the table in front of him. And since the World Series Main Event is an ante event, you can bet this was the case in 1980.
The field in 1980 was only 73 people. A drop in the bucket compared to current fields of over 6,000. However, that field of 73 contained most of the best poker players in the country. It was certainly no cakewalk. And waiting for Stu at the final table was none other than two time Main Event champion Doyle Brunson. They played to the final two. In an amazing final hand, both players moved all in...Stu pushing with 4-5 suited, and Doyle calling with A-7. The flop came A-7-2, with Doyle holding A-7. The turn though was a 3.....and Stu won his first bracelet in his first ever Hold Em tournament with a straight. He was also, at the time, the youngest main event winner in history, at 26 years old. (Phil Helmuth would later break that record when he won it at 25 years old. Sad.)
Stu returned to the World Series in 1981, primed to defend his title. He again played through 76 participants to the final two, where it got down to him against a former Alaskan fur trader named Perry Green (don't laugh, the fur trader owns THREE World Series bracelets). The deciding hand saw Stu move all in when the flop came 7-8-4, and was called by Green. Stu was holding A-Q, and Green was holding 9-10. But a river Queen finished the match, and Stu was wearing his 2nd Main Event bracelet in his second World Series.
In 1981, Stu also won the $10,000 Duece to Seven event, giving him three bracelets in 2 years of play. Pretty amazing by anyone's standards.
Stu was on a roll, and nobody could stop him. He would sit with anyone, at any time, and play poker for any limit. And he rarely lost.
One of the greatest tales from the Stu Ungar era comes from 1992, when he faced off heads up against Mansour Matloubi, the 1990 Main Event winner, for $50,000. On the final hand, Matloubi moved all in for $35,000. Stu thought about it, and announced "You either have 4-5, 4-6 or 5-6" and called the bet showing his 9-10.....no pair. A 10 high call for $35,000 with overs on the board. Matloubi's face showed all anyone needed to see, as he turned over 5-6 and Stu raked the pot. (Note: The cards may have been a little different, as I'm typing from memory. But the 10 high call is on the money).
Another famous thing Stu left behind was a quote for the ages: "I never wanted to be called a GOOD LOSER. Show me a good loser, and I'll just show you a loser". Classic.
Stu would go on to win the 1983 $5000 Seven Card Stud event, as well as the 1997 Main Event, for his THIRD World Series title. But there is so much between 1981 and 1997 to discuss in the next installment. But suffice it to say that he is the ONLY player ever to win three Main Event bracelets. Johnny Moss has three, but his first was by vote, not by play.
Additionally, back in that time there was a Super Bowl of Poker hosted in January, to go along with the NFL's Super Bowl. Stu Ungar is the only person to win both the World Series Main Event AND the Super Bowl of Poker....and he won each of them THREE TIMES.
So there ya have some pretty good times in the life of Stu Ungar. Next week we'll get into some other events like marriage, the birth of his beautiful daughter Stefanie, and the death of his step son, and how each of these changed the course of his life.
And here's a little trivia for you all. The cartoon band Gorillaz's lead singer, 2D, was originally called Stu-Pot. One look tells you why. Yepper, that's Stu Ungar.